Used Hand Tools – What’s Worth Buying Old?

by | Jun 7, 2018 | 37 comments

I truly believe that most people quit woodworking because they don’t ever get started. Obsessing over the perfect workbench and buying too many used hand tools can lead to this problem.

You should dedicate a weekend to build your workbench. Get it done and stop over thinking.
And then another weekend should be all you need to get your tool kit put together.

used woodworking hand tools

Buying used hand tools can be addictive. But whilst it’s nice stacking up with loads of old stuff, you’ll soon realise the work needed to get it all going and it becomes more of a stress than the hobby or passion that it should be.

Old tools can still be the best place to turn for certain bits in your kit. The key is to be mindful of what you’re searching for so you don’t become burdened.

Old Hand Tools That Aren’t Worth The Bother.

Strangely, overall it’s not your run of the mill tools that I’d look out for second hand.

New chisels like the Narex for example, they’re so good, so cheap and they come out of the box ready to go. There’s not much point in dedicating yourself to flattening off old chisels, not mentioning all of the equipment you’re going to need to do it.

Saws are another that I would avoid second hand. You can get old saws for ten a penny but you’ve got to be careful that you don’t end up with a rusty collection all in need of restoration.

If I do make it out to used tool sale the stuff I’ll be on the hunt for will either be the more consumable bits, or they’ll be specialist.

Buying The Consumables

Old Plane Blades

You might buy old tools because they’re cheap, and you might buy them because they’re collectable. For the most part though I love used hand tool sales because I love old iron.

The softer laminated steel of an old plane blade isn’t something I can turn down.
This might be old irons to fit my Stanley No. 5, as I burn through them and like to keep at least a couple set up for different cambers.

And it’s usually not hard to find the plane blades from old wooden planes either. If you’re lucky they’ll be laminated.
If you’ve been contemplating building your own wooden hand plane, then I’d definitely be on the lookout for a nice iron for your build.

wooden jack plane made using an old blade

Old wooden plane blades are easy to find. Then you could follow the video on how to build your own hand plane as a cheap way to set yourself up with a full range.

Old Drill Bits

On a similar theme If you can find nice old augers that can fit in to a hand brace then I would always consider buying stuff like that.

Old Oil Stones

Since it’s become the in thing to use hard steels for cutting edges something I’m always keeping an eye out for are old sharpening stones. Buying oil stones new now has become very limiting but you’d be surprised with what you can get when you start to consider going old. If you can find a real nice finishing stone for example then you’ll go home chuffed.

used oil stone for sharpening

Buying For The Beginners’ Kit

Your Hand Plane

I’d certainly avoid trying to get all of your starter tool kit old because certain tools are just easier to buy new.

But the most important tool in your beginners’ kit to get right is your hand plane. Choose the right Jack plane and get set up with a multitude of irons to allow it to cover all of your planing needs. That tool will live in your hand.

It’s not essential to go old, but if you get the opportunity I’d keep an eye out for any old Record, or Stanley planes. The old lightweight Bailey plane is the ideal workhorse. I wouldn’t go any bigger than a No. 5 in length but I would consider a No. 5 1/2 if there was a nice one.

Drills. (Hand Braces & Egg Beaters).

It can be hard to get a good egg beater and I find it’s easy to burn through them. If you can spot a good one then go for it.
I don’t look for any particular brand, just for one where the chuck is working and has a nice smooth feel.

A nice brace is also worth picking up.

large Stanley hand drill

Your Router Plane

I consider the router plane a bonus in the beginners’ tool kit but if you can find one for a good price then I’d certainly consider buying.
They’re incredibly useful and a second hand tool sale is going to be the best place to find one quite cheap.
They’re such a simple tool that you should be able to get one that’s working well, just be sure that it has a depth adjuster on it.

The Speciality Planes

If you’re looking to expand beyond your beginners’ kit then an old tool sale can be the perfect place to find well priced yet usable joinery planes.

It’s the speciality stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily put on your desperate list but are very handy when they come in. If you looked to buy these new they’re going to get pricey.

A Plough Plane.

If you spot a good one at a good price then give it some thought. A good plough plane is perfect if you can see yourself making a lot of drawers.
New ones are dead expensive and can be mediocre. The old ones can demand a high price because of Ebay.

used plough plane

A cared for plough plane with all its parts Is well worth some attention.

Hollow and Rounds.

These moulding planes don’t need to match to be useful. If you’re happy to pick them up at different sizes when you spot a good one, over time you can have a nice collection for very little cost.

Buying Used Tools To Modify

When I go to a used tool sale I tend to buy stuff that I don’t really need. I’m not hoarding but keeping an eye out for my mental log – a library of tools that are always handy as a basis to be adapted or set up for a very particular job.

I’ve done this a lot in the past with wooden rebate planes because they’re as cheap as chips and so versatile.
I have dozens of them and I’m forever modifying, you really can make owt out of a rebate plane.

used rebate plane used for moulding

Wooden rebate planes can be the perfect starting point for modifying for very specific needs. I turned this one in to a simple moulding plane.

If you’re lucky enough to get out to an old tool sale then go ahead and have a good rummage. The motto here is just be careful that you’re not overloading yourself with crap when all you’re really wanting to do is crack on with the woodwork.

And if you’re even more lucky and happen to be available to pop to Market Harborough this Saturday then you really should consider visiting Richard Arnold’s annual open day.
This is a charity used hand tool sale offering a huge range of old tools for a small donation.
There’s great company, an auction for the posh stuff and a chance to meet some great tool makers.

And when you thought it couldn’t get any better… you can even take your old crap along and offload it to the sales table.

Plane Build Video Series

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Chris

    Very nice post !
    Have you seen that workshopheaven now sells laminated plane blades ? (I remember the Sharpening video series where you said you wished these were still made 🙂 )

    • Richard Maguire

      Ooh, thanks Chris, I’ll have to take a look.

  2. Miikka

    I tested my luck trying to find a used router plane in decent condition with all the blades. I stalked ebay and all of the British vintage tool dealers for months. The nice examples went for 120–150 pounds and even the less desirable ones went for a hundred quid. I gave up. Dieter Schmidt sells the new Veritas for 150 euros. One day I will treat myself to one of those and never look back.

    • John

      Mikka it’s so easy to make your own….mine with adjustable depth works a treat.
      Search Utube for info….best John

    • TaDa Man

      I just sold my Stanley 71 with all 2 bits, the fence, and shoe on eBay and made enough to buy a Veritas router plane with the fence and lunch to boot. The Veritas is WORLDS nicer than the Stanley. Fine threads on the adjuster and the fit an finish is out of this world. Don’t look back!

      • Richard Maguire

        I have to agree, the Veritas is a smashing tool.
        It’s very sad how things like Ebay have really jabbed the prices up on what used to be trivial cheap tools.
        It doesn’t seem that long ago that you could buy a Stanley No. 5 for a fiver, unused and still in the box.
        As far as new tools go I actually don’t find that the Veritas is priced too badly, particularly for the use it’s going to get.

  3. Geoff Bembridge

    Hi Richard, really enjoy your posts, especially since you say things as they are. Though I am only a enthusiastic, self taught woodworker, Iam all to aware of the potential pit falls of buying second hand tools. Been there got the tee shirt. But, you are quite right, buying old tools can be more trouble than they are worth. Occasionally I have found some tools which have proven themselves very worth while. Regards Geoff.

  4. Jeffrey Murray

    This is some great advise. I have had some great finds such as 3 wooden rebate planes banded together for the price of one, but they had no irons or wedges. I happen to have a “stash” of old irons and making wedges are relatively easy, so it worked out. I also bought a plough plane for next to nothing, why so cheap? It was missing one of the rear nuts, but I happen to have a 3/4”-6 tpi thread box, however on closer inspection, this was a 13/16”-7 tpi thread, so I had to fabricate a nut by drilling the root dia. hole, cut the blank in half, mark and chisel the threads, in each half, with a bent V tool. It did work out but this is not something that the faint of heart may want to try.

    • Richard Maguire

      That would be a good laugh for a first timer!
      I do have to say I take my hat off to you, that must have taken a lot of patience.

      • Jeffrey Murray

        After watching YouTube videos of people making LH threaded rods and nuts and people using unbelievable complicated jigs, finally I contacted Bill Anderson and he got me on the right path. It really wasn’t that difficult, but you had to keep your wits about you when making the nut in two halves.

  5. Rick

    You do have to be careful. Before you know it, you are a tool collector instead of a woodworker!

  6. Eberhard

    Just spend a wonderful week near Salisbury and bought 2 old chisels 38mm and 30mm for 4 pounds each in an antique Shop.
    Heavy Sheffield steel, beautiful handles which show signs of a Long history of work.
    Took me 5 hours of work to restore them.
    My MHG chisels of the same sitze now live in a nearby community workshop.
    Can’t say if the old ones cut better, but they feel so much better

  7. John

    Well done Richard that post contains such good advice………pity I did not see such advice before I built my collection of 50 moulders…..umpteen saws…….wooden spoke shaves…..etc. BUT LOVE EM ALL

  8. Julian

    Hey Rick – you’re so right.
    Also Richard’s sage advice “…… just be careful that you’re not overloading yourself with crap when all you’re really wanting to do is crack on with the woodwork…..”

    Wow for five hours restoration work. On two chisels! To me that equates to almost three sets of six new Marples splitproofs, one set at 25 for boasting out concrete oak, the second set fine and polished to shave the hairs off ones arm (a very stupid thing to do). And one spare set for the borrowing buggers. Admittedly they are not Ikeda Nomi. But then…..!
    Thinking, drawing and making is the joy……yes and restoring. A recently acquired cottage far off the beaten track in the Spanish mountains has taken me back 50 years, to my youth, with a handful of simple tools, a knocked up bench from pallets that straddles a wall, and I have re found that simplicity and adaptability of the ordinary;. Yes I sometimes return to my painty pointy workshop in the UK and wonder just what on earth all this stuff is for..! My big idle Wakin babes actually look quite forlorn and forgotten.. Happy days. Yours aye Julian

    • Richard Maguire

      That sounds like the life… enjoy the simplicity!

  9. Byron Servies

    I wish I was capable of building a workbench in a weekend. But I’m working steadily, and getting there. This weekend, laminate the 2×12 boards for the top and aprons.

    Working on saw horses using the same dovetail style joinery at the same time. The laminated legs and rails are ready, after machine prep.

  10. Bart

    I find it interesting that you recommend avoiding second hand saws. I have found them to be a very cost effective method of obtaining great quality tools. I enjoy the process of taking that which has been neglected and bringing new life to it. I have learned a plethora about sharpening through my restoration of old saws. And hey, I’m alot more comfortable sharpening a $10 saw than a $300 one.

    • Michael Ballinger

      Fair enough but not all new saws are that expensive.

    • Brent

      I agree with Richard’s recommendation in “Buying for the Beginners’ Kit” to get a new/sharp saw. When I started woodworking 12 plus years ago, I brought a re-sharpen Disston Back Saw for $75. It has carried me through the joinery for my modest hobbyist production of a dresser, six side tables, two stools, a sideboard, a tool chest and blanket chest, and it is still mostly sharp. In addition, right after I bought that saw I found my grandfather’s back saw, I still have not sharpen it. I also agree with Richard’s statement in another post you only need one backsaw filed rip cut. I learned this by buying both a Veritas dovetail rip cut saw and Lie-Nielsen crosscut Carcass saw, both good saws, and finding I prefer the Disston on which I leaned to saw. I prefer it because I learned on it.

    • Richard Maguire

      Hi Bart, I probably should have been more clear, it’s not that I don’t recommend old saws at all, I would certainly recommend them for the very reason that you’ve stated. I just feel that old saws are an easy one for beginners to get bogged down in. There are some very cost effective new saws that can see you through a lot of projects and teach you what a sharp saw should feel like.
      I sometimes think that the old saws are so cost effective that you can easily start hoarding them.

      • Ed

        I’d offer this as a guide for old saws: If the teeth are relatively uniform in shape, size, and spacing so that the saw needs only needs to be sharpened, then, if you like the existing tooth configuration (rips vs. cross cut), you have a good chance of quickly getting that saw going again even if it is rusty, ugly, or has a defective handle. On the other hand, if the teeth vary in size, height, and spacing, then there is a substantial chance that a beginner will have trouble getting that saw to work, especially if it is a cross-cut saw. A beginner should closely examine photos of goofed-up saws, e.g., “cows and calves,” or the beginner may not even recognize what uneven teeth look like. I suppose you should sight the tooth line to see that it is reasonably straight, although some saws are breasted.

        My three favorite saws are rehabs. I have six other saws sitting in a pile because I still haven’t gotten good enough to fix them, now that I realize how much is wrong with them. You only need two or three saws, and can go very far with two.

  11. Ian M. Stewart

    I must admit, I love restoring old tools as much as I do making things from wood. It really upsets me to see a good old tool misused and abused and then discarded, when it could so easily be resurrected to be better than many modern ones. I don’t go for original looks, or a perfect finish. Rusty irons can stay stained and shabby looking so long as the back is flat and the working edge is perfect.. My scrub plane was a 4-1/2 with a broken handle and an iron so bad I had to cut it back over an inch to reach cleaner metal, but it now works a treat with a tight camber. That camber narrows the cut and the extra weight really powers through the rough stuff.

  12. Michael Ballinger

    I have a lovely old plough plane that took me hours to clean up and still doesn’t work. I have a lovely tenon saw that falls into the same category. Then I bought a new saw, new plough plane and it’s all good, back to working wood rather than tinkering with tools that I lack the knowledge to repair.

    • Richard Maguire


  13. David W

    Thanks for this Richard. I wish you had posted about ten years ago when I was first delving into the craft. I was wondering how much you spend on the old irons for your #5. Here in the US they will go for $25 or so (18.56 GBP). That would be for what we call “new-old stock”. In other words never used and still in the paper wrapper.

    As for saws – I would have to agree with Bart about learning to sharpen on an old cheapie vs a new premium. Here in the US good “old” saws that have been professionally tuned/sharpened will be almost as much money as a premium or semi-premium saw. IMO a happy medium would be the saws being made in the UK under the Thomas Flinn (brand). I have one of their gents saws and it is superb. I haven’t used any of their other saws but I have seen them in our local retail stores. They look to be first class tools.

    • Richard Maguire

      Hi David,
      Prices certainly vary but I could get a few for £5.00 at the right car boot sale. This won’t be new old stock though, they’ll be at varying stages of their life.
      As for learning to sharpen, I definitely agree that old is the way to learn, I just don’t feel that the absolute beginner really needs to worry too much about this yet.
      And I completely agree with the Thomas Flinn saws, they’re lovely saws for the money.

  14. Mike Murray

    I’m going to second what Bart said above. I get another type of enjoyment out of finding and fixing up old tools. In doing so, I get to see and understand the construction of the tool, learn about the function of the tool, and then because I have taken the time to bring the tool back to working condition, I get to work with it and thereby learn about technique and finesse for using it. Not saying I master the technique or finesse but because I have the tool I can practice when I find time. Fun, fun.

    I’m in no way a creative woodworker. I build things for a purpose mostly but I enjoy doing that as much as if I was building cabinetry.

    What I have attempted to do with all my fixing up of old tools is to build up a set that a well-equipped woodworking shop might have had back in the day. That in itself has been fun and interesting. Some of the tools have been hard to come by but I enjoy the hunt.

    I agree with the statements you made that I know how easy it is to accumulate. I’ve done that but with a purpose in mind. I wanted to find the tool that fits me and that I like best out of the selection. The others will go in a sale. I have been successful in that search to a point. One thing I have learned is that I don’t follow the hype anymore. People talk up tools online but when I actually get several tools that accomplish the same purpose, many times the one I like best is not the hyped up tool. Just the way it is for me.

    I’m sort of an old duffer and I have two sons that I would like to leave some tools to when I go. Another purpose for having a few extra drills, planes, saws, chisels, etc. I’ve been trying to pass on some of what I learn about tools, but I suppose they will have to figure most of the details for themselves.

    Tools in my neck of the woods are not the problem. Good wood is. I’m out in the arid south west in the US so any good wood has to be trucked in. Pretty expensive. I envy folks that live where hardwoods grow. Heck, we can’t even get decent plywood around here. : (

  15. Steve Bartlett

    Great advise as usual Richard.
    I am gutted I waited until Sunday morning to read this as I have missed
    Richard Arnold’s annual open day. Are there any similar events happening soon?

    Steve B

  16. Steav Smith

    Amazing article, article is explained in a good way and with images, it makes easy for us to understand this article.

  17. foromir

    “New chisels like the Narex for example, they’re so good, so cheap and they come out of the box ready to go.”
    Where’d you come up with this? Not only they are not sharpened, they aren’t even close to flat (the backs) out of the box. The steel is hard and I’d recommend anyone thinking about flattening them on a piece of glass with a sandpaper to think twice before proceeding (hint: rounded edges/corners). Some stores offer Narex chisels indeed flattenend and sharpened. I higly recommend finding a store offering the service.

    • Jeffrey Murray

      That is interesting, I have bought several Narex chisels and they were all “ready to go right out of the box”. I have since sharpened them on glass with sandpaper and they are indeed scary sharp.

  18. Mike Bullock

    I think it all boils down to understanding yourself: what your goals are, what brings you joy, etc. I have more old vintage tools than I need, and I spend a lot of time working on these tools. The time I spend on this definitely detracts from the time I spend on woodworking projects. I’m happy with this and get as much enjoyment from dicking about with the tools as I do with making things out of wood. A key thing is what Richard says about not letting one thing distract you from another. I’d only adjust this by adding that getting distracted is fine if you are honest with yourself about it. So yeah, don’t let the tools get between you and your woodworking- unless you want it that way. When I pick up another old saw or hand plane that I probably don’t need, I don’t tell myself this is something I must get working so I can get on with my current woodworking project. That would be silly and counter productive. On the other hand, I may wake up one morning and decide that today is going to be a tools day and happily start working on this or that rusty old thing.

  19. Oliver G

    Hi Richard

    I’m a total beginner and I want to get my first hand plane. I’m not really sure what to look for in the second hand market and I don’t want to buy a pig. Can you give some advice on good makes / models of new hand planes because I’m quite overwhelmed with all the options out there. I’ve read reviews that say the new Stanley planes are not any good. Any help would be much appreciated.


    Oliver G

  20. Martin

    I’ve been using Tooltique for some time now because they take all the trouble out of buying old tools as they refurbish them to a very good standard. My No: 7 and No: 4 i bought from them are a joy to use, they are properly lapped flat and the irons and chip breakers have all been worked on ready for use. They even flatten the backs of the chisels and sharpen old saws ‘properly’, they are lovely to use. It’s nice to see someone actually understanding what us woodworkers need and putting in so much effort to get things right.
    As you say there is often a lot of work and effort needed with old tools but these guys are a real solution and worthy of a mention.

  21. Lataxe Ludd

    Adjusting the plane blade & wedge with a hammer. ….. obviously possible but not so easy to do with great accuracy for we old cackhands. I like the twirly wee knob that also goes side to side. A good Norris adjuster with a fine thread and little to no slop can make very small alterations to the action of the edge without having to learn hammer-knocking!

    And yet you can still build your own wooden plane in Maguire style. You drill a hole in the top of the blade bed for the Norris gubbins. It also simplifies the cross pin needed … just a bit of round brass or steel bar going cheek to cheek. You do need a knurled-head bolt in the wedge, though.

    Veritas sell kits for making your own wooden plane with a Norris adjuster. But it’s better to buy one of their fine thread adjusters rather than use the coarse thread variety in their kit. And better to drill a hole in the wood for this adjuster rather than use the wee disc screwed to the plane bed that they put in their kit. It’s too sloppy a fit.

    How can I show you a piksher of one?

  22. Cheryl Driver

    Have used power tools and hand tools that I would like to sell
    Wonder if you are interested.


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